It's a familiar complaint in suburbia: The newcomers are ruining the neighborhood.

Homeowners such as D.J. White, a truck plant worker who built the first house in the Country Heritage subdivision, also worry that the most recent arrivals will lower property values and pollute the air and water.

That's because the new residents are pigs. Thousands of pigs, all of them denizens of a massive hog operation being built next door to the subdivision.

Sparsley populated Camden County has become the latest battleground between corporate hog farming -- seen by some state officials here as a good substitute for the embattled tobacco industry -- and environmentalists and animal-rights activists. The critics say the hog farm, a half-hour's drive south of Norfolk, would smell up the neighborhood, and some warn that its waste runoff could threaten one of the nation's most ecologically sensitive wildlife preserves.

Virginia Beach-based Frank Williams Farms completed the first of what could be 23 buildings this fall, housing more than 20,000 hogs, on reclaimed wetlands just six-tenths of a mile from the Country Heritage subdivision, and about the same distance from the Dismal Swamp Canal.

Also nearby, on U.S. 17, is a North Carolina Welcome Center, visited last year by 600,000 travelers, most of them headed for the Outer Banks, and by several thousand boaters using the canal, which is part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Lloyd Culp, manager of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, said his superiors at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are "monitoring the situation" because a large ditch flows from the farm into the canal.

In the last five years, hog production has risen so dramatically in North Carolina that it has replaced tobacco and poultry as the state's top agricultural industry. The Tar Heel state produced 12.2 million hogs last year, second only to Iowa (by comparison, Virginia raised 632,000 hogs in 1995).

The new factory farms have little in common with the small numbers of pigs that farmers of old used to raise in muddy patches behind their barns. Today's pigs, like many chickens and turkeys, seldom see the light of day, and their feet never touch the earth, much less wallow in mud.

Environmental disasters have accompanied the proliferation of the mega-hog farms in North Carolina. Several large earthen lagoons designed to contain hog manure have ruptured, including one spill last year that spewed 25 million gallons of animal waste into nearby fields and streams.

Until recently, the state's giant hog operations were concentrated in central and southeastern parts of the state. But last spring, White and his neighbors realized that their tranquil life here was about to be disrupted. Bulldozers and cement mixers rumbled along a dirt lane on the 1,000-acre farm, and whirring chain saws leveled several acres of water maple and sweet gum trees.

In September, residents of Country Heritage and a second subdivision south of the farm formed the Coalition to Save the Dismal Swamp and joined forces with the Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry, which has been fighting factory farms elsewhere in the state. They staged a protest at the welcome center, led by a demonstrator dressed in a hog costume, and wrote letters to newspaper editors.

Concerns about potential spills at the farm are unwarranted, farm owner Frank Williams told the Camden County Commissioners, because of a technology he and his partner, Fred Cunningham, saw in Belgium. Rather than collecting in earthen lagoons, waste from Williams's hogs will run into concrete bunkers built beneath the enclosed hog buildings.

The waste eventually will be pumped into the adjacent fields and sprayed as fertilizer on corn and other crops.

But Michelle Nowlin, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Raleigh, said the concrete bunkers may not be as effective as lined, earthen lagoons, and even those have problems with leakage when it floods. Williams is planning "one of the largest hog operations in this part of the country for an area where there is regular flooding," she said.

Country Heritage resident Bob Fraser, a retired Coast Guardsman, adds, "swimming pools crack, basements leak."

State Rep. Bill Owens (D) says Williams, whose sprawling agriculture operations include about two dozens farms in North Carolina and Virginia, told him last summer that he planned to construct 23 buildings, capable of holding 23,000 pigs. But Williams now says he plans to house fewer than 5,000 animals here at any one time -- 4,160 pigs in four nursery buildings and 112 boars in a stud enclosure.

"Those young pigs will produce an insignificant amount of manure" during the seven weeks they are at the farm, said Williams's partner Cunningham, a veterinarian. "We're not talking toxic waste here."

The fight against the hog farm also has attracted the attention of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the animal-rights organization that moved its international headquarters from Rockville to Norfolk in August.

PETA member James Cromwell, nominated for an Academy Award last year for his portrayal of Farmer Hoggett, who saved the life of a precocious pig in the movie "Babe," told Gov. James Hunt in a letter that "surely North Carolina, which already has more pigs as residents than people, should forgo building yet another polluting pig farm."

Cromwell said in an interview that he was a vegetarian before making "Babe" but became a strict vegan afterward, omitting all animal products from his diet.

His letter added, "If these voiceless residents could speak from the confines of their dirty, dark sheds, they would join me in urging you to take immediate action to protect the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge by not allowing another cruel and ecologically unfriendly animal factory to be built in your state."

But Williams dismissed the PETA protesters, saying: "Those people are plum crazy . . . They won't be happy until people go hungry."

Co-owner Cunningham, of Currituck, N.C., said: "PETA thinks all farm animals should be set free. Where does common sense come in?"

Country Heritage residents draw the line at the odor.

Susan Schiffman, a Duke University psychologist and a member of the state's Swine Odor Task Force, says gases that cause hog odor often rise in a plume and can be as strong 1,500 feet away as they are at the barn.

PETA spokeswoman Tracy Reiman says "as long as people eat meat, there will be odor." She urges people to "take personal responsibility and go vegetarian."

That's going too far for the Country Heritage residents. "All of us still love barbecue," Fraser said. CAPTION: Subdivision residents Bill Bland, left, with son Logan, 4, and D.J. White oppose the massive hog operation being built on the property behind them.